Nursing: 1. The profession or practice of providing care for the sick and infirm. 2. The protection, promotion, and optimisation of health, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations.
“A Samaritan travelling along the road came to a man. When he saw the man’s condition, the Samaritan’s heart went out to him. Kneeling beside him, the Samaritan went to him and gave him first aid. The Samaritan poured olive oil and wine on the man’s wounds to soothe and clean them, and bandaged them. Then the Samaritan put the hurt man on a donkey and took him to an inn where he was cared for and nursed through the night.” (Luke 10:34)
With the way TV hospital dramas (think: “ER”, “Scrubs”, “House” and “Grey’s Anatomy” for starters) depict doctors and nurses, it’s no wonder most people have a pretty inaccurate idea of the realities of nursing and what it means to be a nurse. If I am to believe Hollywood, most men apparently fantasize about what ‘treasures’ hide beneath the crisply starched white mini skirt uniforms worn by nurses. Just search for “nurse” in Google images and you won’t have to scroll down the page very far to see what I’m talking about. Apart from the fact that nurses haven’t worn starched white caps and dresses for decades, the reason nurses traditionally wore white was that nursing was associated with purity, compassion and care – a far cry from the sleazy images of nurses depicted in Google. Images that, as a nurse, I find incredibly insulting.
What I also find insulting is that nursing as a profession is often depicted in the media as being somehow lower or lesser then other health care professionals (Doctors) and when most people think of the role of a nurse they picture me carrying bedpans, wiping backsides and fluffing pillows. Doctors give the orders, give the medications and give the patient care. It is the Doctor who makes the patient better. Any nurse will scream that this is far from true. However this blog post isn’t a rant about Doctors versus Nurses and who is more important. I am personally very blessed to work with an incredible bunch of ICU Doctors who treat me with respect and equality. As a newly graduated Registered Nurse I started work in ICU at the start of 2013 and I have never been ridiculed for asking stupid questions (and I’ve asked many) and in fact I have been encouraged by the Doctors to ask the “why” and “how” questions that have further enhanced my nursing practice. I work alongside Doctors that may issue instructions to me one minute but in the next minute they are emptying overflowing urinary catheter bags because they can see I am busy doing something else. We are a two different members of the same team. Working together. So this isn’t Us versus Them. It is about Us. Nurses.
I read an article recently about how nursing as a profession has, for many years, been considered the most trustworthy of professions. Australians were asked which professions they consider to be the most ethical and honest. You can probably guess that used car salesmen are at the bottom of the list (a position they have held for more than 30 years according to the Roy Morgan research) and you wouldn’t be surprised that also scraping the bottom of the barrel are real estate agents, telemarketers and Members of Parliament! But for the 19th year in a row since nurses were first included in the survey, 90% of people rate nursing and nurses as the most ethical, honest and trustworthy of professions.
Yet these same people continue to believe the inaccurate assumptions about nurses and nursing. So, on that note, and for what it’s worth, I’m going to debunk some myths.
Number One. I am not a sex object. (Yet I have on occasion been sexually harassed by a patient). I do not wear short skirts, fishnet stockings or stilletos. Not to work and not outside of work. Nor do I allow my breasts to fall out of my tight, unbuttoned top as I lean over you to wipe your sweating brow. And just so you know, my personal pet hate is seeing the ‘Get Well’ cards that you have received that only further glorify the nurse (me) as some sort of over-sexed, sleazy object available to meet all your fantasies as you lay in your hospital bed. Seeing these cards displayed on the shelf above your bed not only offends me but I’m offended on behalf of my male nursing colleagues.
I am not an angel. I did not grow wings upon my graduation. I might be caring and sweet and kind and demure and pleasant to your face but I do not always have angelic thoughts and feelings on the inside – especially when you are vomiting on me or abusing me. Both of which happen at least once every shift. But thank you for calling me an angel. I will accept that!
I was not born with the ‘compassionate’ gene. If you want some sympathy when you cut your finger while slicing carrots, forget it. Find a Bandaid yourself. Unless your pain is 10/10 and you’re still bleeding after a few hours, I won’t care. If you’re really hurt, really sick, really in pain, really upset…then I will care and I’ll turn on the compassion. Quickly. And it will be genuine. I promise. Trust me.
I am not always interested in looking at your rash. Or hearing about your bowel issues or looking at your sores that “just won’t heal”. Especially not while I am enjoying dinner. Unless of course I bring it up first. Then it’s a different story and the most gross stories about the human body won’t bother me at all. In fact I will probably be happy to look at pictures! And the fact that you call me for a consultation/diagnosis instead of going to see your Doctor isn’t lost on me either. I appreciate that you obviously think I might know what I’m talking about.
I am not well paid. As a newly qualified Graduate Nurse with a three year Bachelor of Nursing degree qualification in my hand I earned approximately $26/hour. My 19 year old son earns more than this working casually in a hotel behind the bar. (No disrespect to my son or anyone else who earns this amount of money!) With my newly earned Post Graduate Certificate in Intensive Care Nursing (which can cost anywhere between $8,000-$15,000 for the 12 month course), I can expect to increase my wage significantly – by approximately $1.08/hour. If I work weekends (and give up precious time with my family and any hope of a social life) I earn time and a half. If I work night duty I earn an extra “allowance” to compensate for having my body clock totally screwed up. Forever.
I do not have it easy. I don’t stand around chatting in the hallways the way TV will lead you to believe. I work hard. I rarely sit down. I once wore my heart rate monitor for a whole shift to see how many calories I burned. After six hours and 6,000 calories burned, my monitor read “error” and turned itself off. Nursing is tough. It is physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting. Before nursing I worked in an office. My start time was 8.30am. This meant I arrived at work at 8.30am. I made a hot drink, chatted to my colleagues, sorted through some mail, turned on my computer, chatted to my boss and maybe around 9.00am I started actually working. As a nurse I start work at 7am. Or 2pm. Or 9.30pm. When I arrive at work I start work. And I am expected to be awake (and functioning) immediately. Because my patient’s life could depend on it. It’s no wonder I am so drained at the end of each shift. That said, I am not a super-hero and I don’t apologise for taking
sick mental health days if I need them.
I don’t drink enough water. But that’s only because if I drink too much water I’ll need to pee. And I often don’t have time to stop to pee. I sometimes miss lunch and I eat way too much chocolate because somewhere back in history someone must have told patients’ families that nurses love chocolate and so we are often ‘thanked’ in this way. (Those who know me will know that I am not complaining!)
I am not a maid nor am I your waitress. Yet I will change your linen when you soil it (again), I will bring you warm blankets when you are cold, cold face washers when you are hot and hot cups of tea and fresh toast when yours arrives cold from the kitchen. I will do so willingly. With a smile on my face. Even when you don’t say “please” or “thankyou”.
I am not a nurse because I wasn’t smart enough to become a Doctor. I didn’t choose nursing as my Plan B because I couldn’t get into medicine. I chose this profession and I love every moment of it. The good. The bad. And the sometimes ugly.
I am your nurse. I observe. I assess. I document (lots). I think critically. I solve problems. I liaise with your family. I advocate for you. I administer the medications that control your heart rate, your blood pressure and your pain. I operate the machine that breathes for you. I put catheters in you to give you fluids. I put other catheters in you to remove fluids. All kinds of different body fluids. I dress your wounds. I wash you and clean your dentures. I roll you from side to side while you are ventilated to ensure you don’t get pressure sores. Yes, I also fluff your pillows, bring you a bedpan and wipe your bottom after you have been incontinent again because of the antibiotics I am giving you four times a day. You’re right. Those bits of my job are not very glamorous and are far from pleasant, but I imagine that lying in your own faecal matter is not pleasant either. But because that’s not all I do as a nurse, I don’t focus on the crap. I focus on all the other things – the myriad of ‘things’ that I’m educated to do as your nurse. Which means that if I have to, I’ll put you on my donkey, carry you to an inn and care for you throughout the night. Because I’m a nurse and that’s what we do.
Nursing is my job. Yes, it is something I do for a living. I go to work, I perform my duties and at the end of the day I receive a paycheque for my service. But it’s so much more than that.
Nursing is an incredible job. I am privileged to care for people from all walks of life. As your nurse I may do things that impact you in ways you will remember for a lifetime without even realising I have done so. As your nurse I have the honour of caring for you when you’re at your best and when you’re at your worst. As your nurse I care for you in the most intimate of ways and during the most challenging and frightening moments in your life. As your nurse I care for you in your sorrow and also in your joy. I hold your hand as your diagnosis is confirmed and I celebrate with you when the tests show the tumour is benign.
Nursing is a vocation. It is a calling. And I am honoured and privileged to have been called.
As your nurse, thank you for trusting me.
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